The intervening months between the first and second birthday must be the most interesting and challenging time in a young child’s life. Innate curiosity drives these young people to investigate and explore every aspect of their environment and this inquisitiveness requires very special skills and attitudes from the adults caring for them. They need energy, patience and acute observation skills, with an awareness of danger, whilst enabling little explorers to take risks and feel free to ‘find out’.
All of this happens at a time when the toddler has limited communication skills and therefore personal disapproval of what is required from the child is often met with a tantrum. Yet it is at this time of life that children begin to learn about perseverance, gregariousness and attention to detail and organisation in their environment. These aspects of the child’s development indicate that the best place for the toddler of this age would be in the home and within the family, being supported by wise, loving adults who understand the nature of the child and who will facilitate relationships between siblings.
Montessori indicates in The Secret of Childhood that it is during this period that the child’s sensitive periods for movement, order, small detail and language unfold, and that it is the adults’ duty to support them. To explain her view in practical terms, this means that children of this age need to:
When reflecting on these principles, which were formulated at the beginning of the 20th century, we can see how well they link with the prime areas of learning and development identified in the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (DfE 2012) and are underpinned by the principles of a unique child, positive relationships and enabling environments.
Translated into early years practice and daycare environments, both inside and outside, Montessori’s recommendations will mean providing children with the following:
Children at this age need a lot of space to move, and opportunities for endless repetition such as climbing up and down stairs, or do things whilst standing up rather than sitting down. They should also have time to engage with activities such as feeding themselves or attempting to dress themselves, trying to brush their hair or wash their hands or helping with housework.
These early efforts will not be efficient or tidy but they will nurture children’s sense of self and demonstrate how important it is to imitate what they see others doing. They will give them confidence and independence, which make significant contributions to their gradually emerging autonomy.